Pistol Brass Prep Basics

Anyone who’s reloading needs to think about brass prep. It’s kind of like prepping your car before a paint job- if you don’t take the time to do prep right, you will not get the desired result. The first step is getting your hands on some brass. You can buy new brass, buy once-fired brass, pick up brass at the range, or shoot factory ammunition and save the brass. Unless you’re reloading brand new factory brass, you’ll need to prep the brass. This post will give you a 411 on that process.

Let’s get this sorted out…

One of the first things you’ll need to consider for brass prep is inspecting and sorting your brass. If you have a bag of once-fired 9mm brass, this includes taking out all of the 380 auto that might be mixed in. You don’t want that 380 auto getting lodged in your sizing die (rim doesn’t catch on shellplate in that case 🙂 ). At this time, you’ll likely separate nickel plated brass from bare brass, and also look for damaged brass. If you’re picky (or loading for competition) at this time you may also sort by headstamp.

Make sure it’s Clean

In order to ensure that you don’t scratch your dies, and to avoid a mess, you’ll need to start by cleaning the brass. There are several ways to get this job done including vibratrory tumblers (shakers), wet tumblers, and ultrasonic cleaners to name a few. When you’re done with this step, your brass will be ready for lube.

Lube Job

Case lube for pistol loads is required if you are not using a carbide sizer die. But what about case lube when you are using carbide sizing dies? I tend to use case lube on all pistol loads. Light film lube (like Hornady One-Shot) does not require much effort or post-loading cleanup, and it does make the press operate more smoothly. A smooth press is a happy press, and it allows the operator to “feel” when something goes wrong more easily.

Other prep steps

There are some other brass prep steps that can be performed for pistol brass, but these are not usually required. These additional steps include:

  • Depriming and cleaning primer pockets
  • Trimming brass
  • Removing primer pocket crimp (for military brass)


Like most reloading tasks, brass prep is a personal thing. What one shooter finds important will not necessarily be important to another shooter. Enjoying brass prep is all about workflow for me. Here are some tips that will help you be an efficient brass prepper:

  1. Bag up your brass at the range and label it. This will help you decipher what is what when you get home.
  2. Tumble brass in separate lots if needed. I have a bulk quantity of Starline 357 Magnum brass, and a bulk quantity of mixed headstamp 357 magnum brass. I keep these bagged separately and tumble them in separate lots to avoid the need for sorting after the cleaning process. This saves me time.
  3. When sorting/inspecting, make yourself comfortable. I tend to sit on the couch with my bags of brass and some Akro bins while sorting. My wife appreciates it when I put a towel in the bins so that the plinking sound is minimized when I toss them in. 🙂
  4. Store your brass in clearly labeled bins that stack. Partially transparent bins can be helpful so that you can see how much brass is in each bin. It’s like a quick-glance visual inventory system. If you have special notes for a bin of brass, write it on a piece of paper and place it on top of the brass (lubed, trimmed, etc).
  5. Stage your brass prep. I tend to save up lots and do bulk quantities of cleaning, sorting, etc. This can help increase your efficiency.

How about you? Do you have tips or techniques to share? Please drop a comment!


25 thoughts on “Pistol Brass Prep Basics”

  1. Picking up range brass in 45acp can result in having small primer pockets mixed in with large. Try to shove a large primer into a small pocket and kaboom!

    1. Very true indeed. I don’t think it has been publicised enough on the web that there exists .45 brass with small primer pockets. I’ve seen it as usually anything marked NT (non-toxic) and sometimes a random Speer brass. Makes it quite the pain to sort – time to get out the calipers to compare the primer diameters.

    2. Excellent post guys! Although I’m not a .45 shooter, I’m helping my friend reload some .45 ammo and wasn’t aware of the different primer pocket sizes until I purchased once fired brass with mixed primers. The sorting process is tedious at best, Arg!

    3. Out of the last 15,000 rounds of range brase that I bought, aprox. 4K was small primer. The majority of it was Federal and Blazer. Keep your eyes open when sorting.

      1. Yep. Federal and Blazer have been the ones I’ve found. Whoever came up with this idea should be issued a swift kick in the junk.

  2. I’ve actually taken to depriming my brass with a universal decapping die before tumbling. It doesn’t get primer pockets perfectly clean, but it’s better than nothing.

    1. I tried that once but the tumbling media kept getting stuck in the primer holes. I decided that it was quicker to clean each primer pocket with a single twist of the primer brush than picking or poking the corn cob out of the primer hole.

      1. I use a dry walnut media and just tap each case on the side of the screen I use for sifting out the media and haven’t had a plugged primer hole yet on 10mm, 9mm or 38sp. I haven’t started up on .380 or 45acp yet, but they are soon to come.

  3. Gavin,

    I just started lubing all my big caliber pistol rounds even though I have carbide dies, with Hornady One Shot also. The press, Lyman T Mag, just runs so smooth this way. Before, there was a lot more resistance, I’m guessing due to the brass being thicker in these caliebrs, 41 mag,44 mag.

    1. Hey Gavin,

      I like and also use Hornady’s One-Shot but I’ve only treated my Hornady dies with it thus far. That said, how do you apply it so it doesn’t get inside the pistol brass? Or isn’t it an issue when it comes to the powder?

      Thanks in advance.

      1. The printing on the Hornady One-Shot can says that it does not harm powder, so I don’t make any special effort to keep it out of the inside of the case. I just make sure that the brass has plenty of time to dry before loading it.

        I also find that if I change my tumbling media fairly often, and use polish, that I can get brass clean in the vibratory tumbler in an hour or so. This allows me to clean a bunch of brass in a morning rather than running the tumbler for long periods just to get one batch.

      2. I apply Hornady One Shot by placing my brass in a paper lunch bag, spraying a blast of HOS into the bag and shaking the bag to distribute it evenly. Then I dump the brass into my casefeeder and I’m ready to roll.

  4. I deprime all my dirty brass of one caliber first with a Lee universal depriming die. Then I run a primer pocket cleaner in each piece of brass; this gives me time to inspect each piece briefly. Then as a batch of brass is cleaning in my ultrasonic cleaner I have time to dry the previous batch and clean pockets and inspect the next batch to go in the cleaner. The advantage is pockets come out very clean and priming goes easier. However, a little known fact (Mentioned in the Lee second edition loading manual) is that brass can be TOO clean, even for carbide dies. So I spray with Hornady one shot (or furniture polish if I’m out — also mentioned as an optino in the Lee manual) and size and reprime. This gives me a chance for a second inspection before throwing them in the bin. I can have several hundred pieces of brass cleaned and primed ready to go in a couple hours if I hustle, or a lazy afternoon if I take my time.

    Loading with clean and pre-primed and sized brass is a joy when you have hundreds of pieces ready to go.

    Prepping brass is a personal thing for everybody, but that is my way. ENJOY!

  5. I reuse only my own brass, basically i buy a box of 1000 rds factory ammo, i shoot that
    and i keep the brass.. i only pick up my own brass and i mark all my reloads with a sharpy over the primer.. Black =1x , blue = 2x , red = 3x used.

    And i got 2 batches of different factory ammo, so that kinda makes it simply to keep track of things
    All my factory Fiocchi ammo is done, and reloaded for the second time now, and i’m using Mag tec factory ammo now for plinking… So by the time i’m done with the Magtech, i should be at 4x with the Fiocchi, and then the Magtech comes in at it’s first reload….At that point i’ll have 2 batches of brass to alternate between.. And i’ll buy me a new 1000 box of factory something… Prolly Winchester..

    1. This way i only have to check the brass size of a couple of shells in the batch, instead of each shell.
      They should all stretch at more or less the same rate, as they have the same age, had the same loads and same source.

  6. I also de-prime using a universal de-dprming die prior to cleaning. I have a small single stage press fro Lee just for that purpose. Then I use an ultrasonic cleaner to clean my brass inside and out. The results are fantastic. They aren’t as shiny as with walnut shells in a vibratory tumbler but I just like the results better. If you want shiny and no clogged primer holes use the tiny stainless steel rods in a solution to clean your brass. I haven’t gone down this path but talked to a trusted source and I’ve seen the results. The brass is clean and shiny, nothing stuck in the primer holes, the insides of the brass are clean, and the stainless steel media lasts forever. Anyone have thoughts about stainless steel media?

    1. I just looked using at the stainless steel media. Basically you HAVE to have a waterproof tumbler like a Thumler’s Model B. I decided against that route because of all the water, soap, emptying, separating the media without losing it down the sink drain. It looks really messy. Check out the videos at http://www.stainlesstumblingmedia.com/
      It does seem to do a nice job, though, and if you decap first, will clean out the primer pockets.
      Right now I’m sticking with Corn Cob Bedding from Petsmart and Nu-Finish car polish in a regular vibrator type tumbler.

  7. I just recently made a change in the way I clean and prep brass. Currently I’m shooting 9mm and .38 Special for IDPA. For several years I’ve been using a Lee Classic Turret and just changed over to a Redding T-7 with Redding carbide dies. I always cleaned range brass just the way it was, then ran the brass through the dies. My Lee press was so messy from decapping primers and all the primer goop that gets all over everything that I decided I didn’t want that in the Redding. So now I decap using the Lee universal Decapper in a (dedicated) lee challenger press. Everything goes down the plastic tube and dumped. I don’t care if that press gets dirty. Then I tumble (vibrate) in a Berry’s 400 with Corn Cob Media from Petsmart (KayKob Bedding) with a shot of Nu Finish car polish added (no wax, no ammonia in it). That gets them really nice and clean and shiny. Then I’ll do a quickie job cleaning the primer holes on a Lyman Case Care doohickey with a crank handle (goes fast that way). I’ve got my S&W 686 set up with a rather light trigger, so I’ve found that cleaning the primer pocket is necessary, as is using Federal primers. Then it’s size and prime and flare the mouth of the brass (on the T-7) then fill with powder off the press. Then it’s back to the T-7 for bullet seating and separate crimping. Does all that make a difference? I don’t know, but my goal is to take the ammunition out of the equation when I’m shooting. Of course, THEN when I miss, I can’t blame the ammo. And while that may sound like a lot of work, I find I have more time to reload than shoot, and I enjoy the process – it’s like a separate hobby!

  8. Since I have two 45 ACP’s..Glock and a Springfield 1911 Loaded version…I’ll pick up range brass even if I do not have a pistol or rifle chambered for that discarded brass. No matter…let’s bring it down easy here. Pistol shooting distance is rather short range. Feet not yards in distance. So when I load either fired brass or pick up range brass or buy new…I reload using the same charge for no matter what brass I’m using brand name wise…military or commerical. I cannot see much if any difference as far as accuracy goes. You’re moving and shooting. Aiming for mass not a 10 X ring. At 10 to 20 feet…I want hits and reliability…AKA stove pipes or jams.

    I use Lee carbide dies…I wipe any brass off with a damp cloth since at present I do not have a tumbler. Leaning towards a sonic cleaner to use after sizing/depriming brass. Yes…I look at the primer pocket to make sure what size primer pocket I have before priming when I clean the primer pocket. I check the length/trim usually once with 45 ACP since the brass tends to shrink up and I only spot check for length of sized brass after my second firing to make sure a finished round chambers without a jam.

    It’s not difficult to size/clean primer pocket and load 100+- rounds in an hour if you just get into the “GROOVE” and then you’re done.

  9. I wanted to say that I did not want stove pipes or jams…and I do not have those two untimely occurances take place. I do use the Lee Factory Crimp Die that post sizes my finished round though I do not crimp my auto pistol rounds…the post sizer really does assure all my rounds feed without a jam up.

    Case preperation isn’t hard…it’s just par for the course of a finished round. Brass that shines is only pretty…it does not feed or shoot any better tha\n brass that is well used. Just needs to be free of grease/dirt/grit.

  10. I’ve found that sorting .45 brass by headstamp is ESSENTIAL if shooting a S&W 625 with moonclips. Some manufacturers (R&P) fit in the clips better. Some (Speer) are aggravating in the extreme with moonclips.

  11. i never sort my 45 brass, I shoot 45 auto out of an hk usp and an hk ump clone and i dont notice much difference as far as accuracy or function go… how ever maybe i should test and see which brass shoots better groups out of my gun, i mainly shoot steel plate, but what do you all think ?

  12. Anyone know if the powder amount has to be adjusted when reloading the Federal .45 brass with the small primers? I’ve got those separated from my large primer .45 brass and it seems a shame to let it go to waste…

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